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Wed 30 Sep 2020 | 12:01

Pro16 plan divides rugby fraternity

Pro16 plan divides rugby fraternity
Wed 30 Sep 2020 | 12:01
Pro16 plan divides rugby fraternity
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REACTION: The South African Rugby Union’s member vote on Tuesday confirmed that all four Super Rugby sides, the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions, are in favour of pursuing a move to Europe to join an expanded PRO14 competition.

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The blockbuster move would forever change the landscape of professional rugby, with a clear power drain on the Southern Hemisphere creating a crowded European landscape.

The South African sides would bolster the ‘PRO’ competition comprised of Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian clubs, which has seen Dublin-based Leinster dominate over the last three seasons with three straight titles.

The announcement of the desired move garnered a divided reaction with equal parts of excitement and disappointment in both Europe and South Africa by fans.

The clear benefit of having the South African sides involved excited those who have desired a tougher regular season in the Pro14, with more competitive fixtures to add further intrigue to the season’s storylines. It was labelled a ‘class level-up’ for a tournament that will become ‘a hell of a lot harder to win’.

On the opposite side, some South African Rugby supporters were concerned whether their own rugby will improve in a league where the stars are often not required to play from some of the stronger sides in the league. There is a perception that the Champions Cup is the greater priority of which it isn’t clear whether the South African teams would be a part of.

 

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European fans were worried that the expanded Pro14 pushes the travel burden for players too far and the ‘locality’ of the competition would be lost, with away games out of reach for fans. One fan said that what people really want is a ‘British & Irish League’, merging the PRO14 with the Premiership.

Another fan feared that the PRO14 will inherit Super Rugby’s problems, importing a ‘failed system’ with conferences and too much travel. Another claimed it ‘feels like a mess’ that flying to South Africa will be normal but a Welsh side like the Dragons can’t go to Bristol to play the Bears.

Arguably the biggest loser from the suggested move is the Cheetahs franchise, who will be cut from the Pro14 along with the already insolvent Southern Kings, to make way for the four remaining South African Super Rugby franchises.

After being dropped from Super Rugby, the Cheetahs are now looking at a second expulsion from a professional competition in only a few short years.

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One proud Cheetahs fan vowed to ‘not support any SA team again’ after hearing of the announcement, and will now back Connacht and Ireland in the club & international rugby. It was labelled ‘really really tough’ and ‘wrong’ for the franchise to be dumped after they committed their future to Europe.

The implications of the move for both the Super Rugby and new PRO16 competitions won’t be known until after the fact, with both leagues taking on enormous risk divorcing and marrying the four South African sides at the same time.

From a Springboks and South African player welfare point of view, the move is a positive moving all the competition into a friendly time zone for the South African audience, while the players will do less travel than what they currently do in Super Rugby.

Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, who formerly coached Munster in the Pro14 league, highlighted some of the benefits as he sees it.

“The first benefit is that as a fan, you’ll be watching the game in the same time zone. You’ll watch it in the afternoon, have a braai (barbecue) and a few beers with mates. It makes a difference,” he said.

“For us as coaches and players, you can get on a plane, sleep on it and actually play the next day.”

Erasmus has expressed his feeling in the past that European rugby is much closer to test match rugby than Super Rugby, advocating it as an ideal place to pick his Springbok squad from, with good form in Europe translating well to international level.

Many high-profile Springboks are already contracted across Europe, from Top 14 teams in France, Premiership clubs in England, with a few in the PRO14 that may get the chance to play against their old teams.

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Pro16 plan divides rugby fraternity | Rugby365